It is clear that criminal elements within the construction industry are becoming more brazen and that the situation needs to be addressed urgently. In a webinar hosted by Creamer Media in partnership with Construction Alliance South Africa (CASA) and sponsored by MDA Construction & Technology Attorneys, which was held recently, a panel of experts shed some light on the issue. 

The “mafia” 

Disruptions on construction sites are not random events. They are perpetuated by violent organised crime syndicates who are diverse in their markets – connected to criminal elements within the police, local councils, regionally and internationally, and they are embedded. They act entrepreneurially and strategically and are very violent in order to achieve their goals and to maintain discipline within their ranks.  

Long-term effects 

  • Site disruptions impact on economic growth, hamper skills development and prevent down-stream job creation, i.e., when shopping centres aren’t completed, retailers don’t open new stores and no jobs are created. 
  • Invasions on site prevent work being done, increasing the costs of doing business. 
  • Whistle-blowers can’t or won’t come forward due to threats and are not willing to risk their lives or the lives of those on site, creating a cycle of intimidation.  
  • KwaZulu-Natal is currently highly affected by construction disruptions, but the problem is quickly spreading across the country on both public and private sector development sites. 
  • Other countries around the world are benefitting as local skilled construction professionals leave, in part due to intimidation and threats to life, or due to actual violence. 
  • An amount of R65 billion was lost to the economy due to blockages and disruptions before Covid-19. The effects and costs post-pandemic are still unclear. 

The road forward 

The following needs were identified as key: 

  • Law enforcement should be improved, so that perpetrators face a very real threat of jail, loss of assets and the dismantling of their networks. 
  • The government, private sector and community must work together to provide solutions and curb illegal activities. 
  • Contracts should be amended to include local participation and information on how to deal with site disruptions transparently, so all rights are protected. 
  • The new Public Procurement Bill should remove ambiguity surrounding the 30% local participation requirement on public sector projects in excess of R30 million, and address concerns from all parties within the construction industry. 
  • Social facilitation needs to be done before construction begins so that the community knows about the opportunities and how procurement works. 

“There is no justification for this disruption to our economy. Construction is the backbone of the economy and social development.” – Public works and infrastructure minister, Sihle Zikalala 

For more insights, watch the webinar on YouTube

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